The Senate asked Gov. Benigno R. Fitial yesterday to suspend without pay Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham for the duration of the criminal complaints filed against him, but the administration said the governor has yet to review such letter because he was just returning from Tinian to attend a funeral when such request was sent to his office.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), on behalf of the Senate, also asked the governor to officially investigate the actions of Department of Public Safety and Commonwealth Ports Authority officers for alleged misuse of government resources to prevent the serving of summons to the AG.
The officers involved included DPS deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro, the governor's personal security/driver Police Capt. Jermaine W. Nekaifes, and CPA Ports Police Chief Jordan Kosam.
Manglona said they were armed and uniformed while they guarded the Buckinghams in the airport VIP lounge. He said these actions-at a minimum-suggest that the law enforcement officers had the appearance and effect, intended or not, of misusing government resources.
“Please investigate and explain why taxpayer resources are being used to carry the bags of the attorney general and his spouse? Why was there a need to guard them at a secured venue such as the airport? If there was a legitimate threat to his safety, why was the media the only party that was prevented from approaching the attorney general and filming his departure?”
He asked the governor to look into the matter “expeditiously and take whatever steps are reasonable and prudent.”
“With all due respect, please provide an explanation for the record to ensure that you are taking this matter seriously,” Manglona told Fitial.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, when asked for comment, said “the governor has yet to review the letter as he was making his way back from attending the funeral in Tinian.”
Officials were on Tinian for yesterday afternoon's funeral of the late U.S. Army Specialist Hanson Mendiola.
Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan) said “Buckingham does not deserve police escort to the airport. This was a waste of taxpayers' money.”
“My question is, who authorized this escort service? We really don't have to look far for an answer. It was the order of the governor. I don't for a minute believe that deputy commissioner Ogumoro concocted this plan by himself. I challenge the chairs of the Senate EAGI Committee and House JGO Committee to initiate an oversight on this matter for DPS as well as CPA police,” Dela Cruz said.
It's because of doubts like this on the governor's possible involvement that the Senate is also seeking an independent investigation.
Besides seeking the governor's investigation, Manglona also asked for an independent probe by its Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations headed by Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian).
Cruz, in an interview, said his committee will meet soon to decide on the investigation request related to the use of government resources in what appears to be an obstruction of justice.
He said he will bring up the possibility of conducting an oversight hearing on DPS and CPA as well as other parties involved in “escorting” Buckingham and his wife from their residence to the airport using armed and on-duty officers and government vehicles.
'Back off Legislature'
But Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) said the matter is “now in the hands of the Judiciary” so the Legislature should “back off.”
“Let the court decide on this,” he said. “It's all about vengeance and revenge on the part of the Office of the Public Auditor against Buckingham.”
Torres said OPA had sufficient time to prepare its complaint but waited for the last minute to file the complaint.
He also said the Legislature missed its opportunity to do something, citing the fact that OPA and a federal agency had long issued reports on the AG's involvement in a delegate candidate gathering and award of a sole-source ARRA management contract yet lawmakers didn't do anything.
“Maybe we could have impeached somebody but it's too late for that now. The court has taken over so let the court decide on this,” said Torres, one of the longest serving lawmakers in the CNMI.
Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan) said while he supports the Senate's request for an investigation, “it seems it's going to be a dead end.”
'Is he still AG?'
The Senate asked for Buckingham's suspension as attorney general in light of at least seven counts of criminal charges against him, a bench warrant for his arrest, a $50,000 cash bail and to prevent the use of taxpayer dollars for the AG's criminal defense.
Manglona, at the same time, raised questions as to whether Buckingham is still the CNMI attorney general-after resigning and then withdrawing his notice of resignation a day after he was served the summons-because he may now be subject to the nomination process and subject to Senate confirmation.
“The people of the Commonwealth have a right to a safe environment. Together we must restore confidence in the justice system of the Commonwealth. Accordingly, your immediate attention to these matters is not just appreciated, it is essential, critical, and urgently needed,” Manglona told Fitial.
Fitial told reporters on Monday that Buckingham remains as the CNMI attorney general. Fitial accepted Buckingham's decision to withdraw his notice of resignation.
Rep. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan) said if there's a committee that's supposed to do an investigation into the alleged improper use of public resources, among other things, it should be the House JGO.
But he said any investigation should be jointly undertaken by the House and Senate instead of having only one house doing it.
Manglona also said he anticipates that Buckingham may seek to use CNMI funds to pay for his criminal defense.
“While I understand that he may legally be able to avail of taxpayer resources for maters that transpired while he was the attorney general, I wish to state for the record that in the event that Mr. Buckingham is not acquitted on every single count of every single criminal charge, all sums used for his defense should be reimbursed to the Commonwealth,” he said.
Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman issued on Monday a bench warrant for Buckingham's arrest for not appearing in court despite penal summons served on him by an FBI special agent.
Wiseman imposed a $50,000 cash bail for Buckingham. He determined that the AG flagrantly disregarded the court’s lawful penal summons.
OPA also filed amended information adding two more charges against Buckingham. The new charges-obstructing justice: interference with service of process, and misconduct in public office-were related to Buckingham’s alleged use of police officers to escort him at the airport to avoid being served with penal summons between Friday and Saturday.